Put a calendar in front of just about anyone who knows anything about life in and around Crookston, and ask them to point to what they would think is the worst time of the year to close the Highway 75 Bypass Bridge for a construction project, and chances are they’d point to the period of time from August to October.
Why? Because it’s harvest time, beginning with small grains and moving into the sugar beet hauling campaign. The bypass gets especially heavy use over those couple of months, and the trucks are big, heavy and the drivers are usually interested in getting from their point of origination to their destination and back as quickly and efficiently as possible.
So it should come as no surprise that people who travel through Crookston on a regular basis are a bit up in arms these days, considering that the bypass bridge is closed until the end of September while a repair and improvement project on and near the bridge with a price tag of just under $4 million is undertaken.
It’s a state-funded project, so thanks, State of Minnesota, for that. It’s all about quality of life, and us Minnesotans know that smooth roads and quality bridges don’t come cheap. If you drive over the bridge, the approach on the north side isn’t exactly the smoothest, so maybe the project will fix that. So, overall, the fact that project is getting done is a good thing.
But could it have been done sooner? Hard to say. Capital investment/bonding bill money is funding the project, and the Minnesota Legislature typically approves the bonding bill at the very last minute late in the spring. Then you have to sell the bonds to free up the money, and that’s not exactly a whirlwind process.
What it all adds up to is the project being done now, and as a result of the detour, traffic coming through Crookston and downtown Crookston, specifically, is up considerably. Much of that traffic is semi tractor-trailers and trucks involved in the harvest.
Driving through downtown Crookston for those not entirely familiar with its bizarre nuances can be a harrowing adventure, so when you add all this traffic and these large vehicles, the potential for problems increases exponentially. Safety is compromised, especially when you see how fast some of these vehicles are racing through town. Maybe the bonding bill should have included money for more police officers on speed patrol in Crookston, or at least a few more speed alert trailers that attempt to remind and maybe even publicly shame drivers who are driving over the speed limit, and in some cases way over the speed limit.
In their day, truck bypass routes were seen as almost entirely beneficial, for safety reasons, mostly. But it didn’t take long for proponents of business and commerce and activity in downtowns from coast to coast to realize that it wasn’t just trucks using the bypasses in order to avoid driving through town, it was all kinds of motorists. The Crookston Chamber of Commerce not too long ago was even involved in a “Bypass the Bypass” initiative, a public relations effort to get motorists to drive through Crookston to see what the town has to offer.
So in that regard, one could argue that this increased traffic isn’t all bad. But the timing of this detour is simply far from ideal. In simpler terms, it’s just plain bad. And if you observe enough of these vehicles coming through town since the detour kicked in, they’re not too interested in what Crookston has to offer; mostly they just want to fly through town as fast as they can while hoping they’re not spotted by law enforcement.